Court Explains Laches in California Divorce Actions

Thorough and truthful financial disclosures are crucial in San Diego divorce actions to enable the Courts with making an equitable division of assets and determining whether to grant spousal support or child support. A lack of adequate disclosure can lead to significant harm, and those who are adversely affected by the other party’s failure to provide accurate financial information can seek relief via the Courts. This was demonstrated in a recent ruling in which a California Court granted a request to adjudicate an asset 20 years after the entry of a default judgment in a divorce action. While there are very strict timelines under Family Law Code Section 2122 to set aside a judgment, this case dealt with an omitted asset and the Court did not find a statute of limitations defense in this case.  If you intend to end your marriage, it is smart to speak to a San Diego divorce lawyer regarding what steps you can take to protect your rights.

History of the Case

It is reported that in April 1999, the husband filed for divorce from the wife. She did not respond, and the Trial Court entered a default judgment. Later, the wife discovered that the husband had an undisclosed pension. In April 2013, she requested an order to address the asset, but due to misunderstandings and communication barriers, the issue remained unresolved until she hired an attorney in 2015. In April 2021, the wife filed a new request to determine her interest in the pension. The husband opposed the request, arguing it was barred as the wife had not set aside the default judgment. The Trial Court determined that the pension was an omitted asset and scheduled a trial to divide it. The husband appealed.

Laches in California Divorce Actions

On appeal, the husband argued, in part, that the doctrine of laches precluded the wife from claiming an interest in his pension. Specifically, he argued the Trial Court erred by allowing the wife’s request under section 2556 of the California Family Code, which deals with community property and continuing jurisdiction, to proceed despite the defense of laches.

The Court explained that laches is an equitable defense that can bar a party from asserting a right if their delay in asserting the right has caused prejudice to the other party. The Court found that the application of laches to a request under section 2556 was unclear, however, and there is no statutory support for barring a party from seeking relief under this section due to delay.

Further, the Court noted that section 2556 does not have a statute of limitations or expressly allow for the defense of laches and that even if laches were applicable, the Trial Court was not compelled to apply it as a matter of law. Therefore, the Court found that the Trial Court did not err in rejecting the laches defense.

Confer with a Skilled California Divorce Attorney

Transparency regarding assets and debts is essential in California divorce actions, and parties that attempt to hide property may face repercussions in the future. If you are interested in obtaining additional information about your rights with regard to divorce, it is smart to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. The skilled San Diego divorce attorneys of Doppelt and Forney APLC have ample experience helping people protect their interests in divorce proceedings, and if you hire us, we will fight to help you seek an outcome in accord with California law.  You can contact us through our online form or call us at 800-769-4748 to set up a free and confidential consultation.

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